Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lots of Bang for the Buck

No, I haven’t fallen off the planet, so the 3 of you that read this can stop worrying!  :-)  I had back-to-back catering jobs (very challenging in my little kitchen) and a baby shower cake to put together.

Here ‘tis…

Can’t say I was terribly thrilled with the cake itself. Very moist and tasty, but not so sturdy given the drive I had to make in a hot car. But it survived. I did have fun making all of the little animals, though.

In addition to the cake, I brought along this fruit tureen, which I totally hijacked from Martha’s site. It was so popular the first time around that I actually added it as a fruit option for one of my catered breakfasts. Very healthy, and it goes together quickly, which is always an added plus!

It holds up to heat a lot better than cream cheese frosting, let me tell you.

Mixed Berry Tureen

2 cups clear juice (I used white cranberry)
½ cup sugar
2 packets plain gelatin
About 3 cups of fruit*

In a small saucepan, combine ¼ cup of the juice and the sugar. Bring to a boil and continue to cook and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. In a small bowl, combine another ¼ cup of the juice with the gelatin. Stir until mixture is thoroughly combined.

Add the gelatin mixture to the juice in the pan. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir in the remaining 1 ½ cups juice.

In a loaf pan, layer the different fruits, leaving the cut sides of the strawberries (if using) facing up. Slowly pour the juice mixture over the fruit. Press fruit down slightly.

Chill for at least 3 hours. To unmold, run a knife around the edges of the loaf pan and then dip the outside of the pan in hot water for about 5 seconds. Invert onto a plate.

*My first time making this, I used about a cup of blackberries, a little less than half a cup of raspberries, and then made up the difference in strawberries slice in half. The second round I substituted chopped nectarine for the raspberries.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frugal Fridays - That Chocolate Thing I Do

Years ago I ran across a recipe in a cookbook dedicated solely to chocolate, and it kind of became my ‘signature’ dessert. It made frequent appearances at work, as well as the theater, and soon became my go to recipe for birthday cakes. Since I’m not a big fan of frosting - most especially the sickeningly sweet stuff you see piled on store-bought cakes, I usually bake this in a bundt pan and then drizzle it with some ganache. It’s incredibly moist without being really super dense or overly rich.

At one point I brought it to a dinner party being thrown to entertain work colleagues from England. Later during their trip out, we decided to get together again, and one of them asked if I would please bring ‘that chocolate thing you do’ (naturally with a very charming British accent). From that point forward, “That Chocolate Thing You Do” became its official title.

Now I’ll impart the secret that few people know. This starts with a boxed cake mix.


I know. It’s like the skeleton in the closet. No, I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t beat my children.

But on occasion, I do use cake mixes.

I suppose I could develop something similar completely from scratch, but really, why? This is a good cake. Start with a good brand of cake mix, and you’ll be fine. You can throw it together in less than 10 minutes, and it bakes for 50. Let it cool a bit and drizzle it with chocolate. It’s very low maintenance, low cost, and a huge crowd pleaser. Even better, you can customize it. The original recipe called for Kahlua, but I’ve used Chambord to impart a raspberry flavor, Frangelico (along with a few crushed hazelnuts), and this time, Amaretto.

Now go do that chocolate thing YOU do.

That Chocolate Thing I Do

1 box chocolate cake mix (I like to use chocolate fudge, but - whatever)
1 small box chocolate pudding mix
½ cup water
¼ cup liqueur (you pick)
½ cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ package chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º and coat a bundt cake pan with butter and flour, or cooking spray.

Empty packages of cake and pudding mixes into bowl of a stand mixer. Measure liquid ingredients and add them to the mixes. Add eggs (lightly beat them if it will make you feel better, but I rarely do) and sour cream. Turn mixer on low to combine ingredients.

Scrape sides of bowl and then turn the mixer on medium. Beat mixture for 4 minutes. Scrape sides with spatula again and then add chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake about 50 minutes, or until skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto serving platter. Cool completely before drizzling with glaze.

Chocolate Ganache

** These are just estimates of measurements. I tend to measure by eye and adjust as needed.

½ package semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp liqueur (whatever you used in the cake)
1 Tbs butter

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and place in microwave. Cook on high for 1 minute, allow to sit for about 30 seconds, then remove from microwave and stir until all ingredients are combined. If it looks like the chocolate is starting to ‘seize’, add a few tablespoons of milk and continue to stir. Drizzle about half of the mixture over cake while still warm, allow to set up a bit, and then go over with the remaining ganache.

Cost -

1 cake mix $ .89
1 pudding mix $1.09
1 package of chocolate chips $ .99
Eggs $ .55
Sour cream $ .99
Oil $ .16
Liqueur (this was a gift and didn’t cost me anything - adjust accordingly)
Milk, vanilla and butter - we’ll call it $ .33 to even everything out

Total spent - $ 5.00 (fed 12 people - 42 cents per person)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Frugal Fridays - Saving Time

As I may have mentioned, things have been crazy in Measuring Spoons Land as of late. O2 (for those of you just tuning in, that’s ‘Offspring 2’) and I sat down with the calendar to work out The Schedule for September.


Things have gotten so busy that I’m actually adding the most mundane things to my ‘to do’ lists, lest I forget things like ‘pay the orthodontist’, ‘pick up Sunday paper’, or ‘breathe’.

Luckily I have some amazing friends that have been stepping in to help.

Somewhere along the way, I had to let go of a project I was really looking forward to. With the close of Steel Magnolias coming up, I had been asked if I’d make the Bleedin’ Armadillo Cake that’s mentioned (basically, the groom’s cake for a wedding made of red velvet cake and covered in gray frosting). I was so looking forward to having fun with it, but as the day drew nearer, I realized there was just no way to make it happen.

But I didn’t want to leave them without SOMETHING, so I decided on a quicker version and made these cupcakes (same red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, but with armadillo tails). O2 and I actually had a great time with our little fondant assembly line - me rolling out tails and ‘backsides’, and her adding texture, so I could add a little more color before final assembly. It turned what would have been an 8 or 9 hour project into something completely manageable. And I hear they were well received by the cast.

And mind you, these were not all about looks. The cupcakes, while dense, were very moist, and the frosting was rich but not overly sweet.

Whether the armadillo, uh, backsides were eaten or not, I didn’t ask…

Red Velvet Cupcakes
adapted from Magnolia Bakery recipe

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp red gel food coloring dissolved in ¼ cup hot water
1 ½ tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted flour
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350º. Place 24 cupcake wrappers in cupcake tins.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream butter on medium-high until lightened in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly incorporate sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, scrape down sides of bowl, and beat an additional 3 minutes.

Mix cocoa, dissolved food coloring and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Add to butter mixture.

Stir salt into buttermilk. With mixer running at low speed, add buttermilk to butter mixture 1/3 at a time, alternating with the flour.

Stir vinegar and baking soda together. Immediately add to batter. Mix thoroughly and then fill cupcake wrappers about 2/3 of the way full.

Bake for 16 - 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and place on a rack to cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs milk
4 cups (approximately) sifted confectioner’s sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter together at a high speed using a stand or hand-held mixer. Add salt, vanilla and milk and incorporate into the mixture. Add sugar, about ½ a cup at time, mixing well after each addition to prevent lumps, until of the desired consistency. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I have been very neglectful of the ol’ blog as of late. Let’s just say that life has been… interesting.

‘Nuf said.

Anyway, here it is September already. School has started, which seems very odd as I now have no kids to send off to school. I mean, I still have the KIDS. Just not school-age. Didn’t want you to think I banished them somewhere. But until O2 starts college in the Spring, I get a break from incessant whining about homework.

Not a bad deal.

Of course, I have to whine a bit on my own because summer seems to have finally located us here. Supposed to be up near 100 degrees today and tomorrow. So NOT ok. I know we got rid of the ‘don’t wear white after Labor Day’ rule, but I’m still holding fast to the ‘no days above 80 degrees after Labor Day’ rule, and that just got shot all to hell this week.

That means the oven does not get turned on. And so I turn to one of my favorite summer soups - gazpacho. I like the more traditional tomato one as well, but this version is particularly light. It goes together quickly, and the only thing you need to pair with it is some bread and something cold to drink.

Grape and Almond Gazpacho

2 lbs seedless green grapes
1 medium cucumber, peeled & chopped
¼ cup roasted unsalted almonds
2 coarsely chopped scallions
¼ cup rice vinegar
½ cup plain yogurt
3 oz cream cheese
¼ cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large dill sprigs, minced
Pinch of cayenne
Salt & pepper to taste

Minced chives for garnish

In a blender, combine first 9 ingredients. Blend until almost smooth. Stir in dill and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Serve in well-chilled bowls garnished with chives.